Can You Paint Leather Furniture?

You can certainly recolor leather furniture, either using special dyes or paints. It is important to identify the type of leather your piece of furniture is made of. This will determine what kinds of dyes or paints to use.

Leather Grades

Aniline leathers are the highest quality leathers. Pure aniline leathers have no protective coating, allowing the natural markings and textures to show through any coloring. Coloring is done with a semitransparent dye. Pigmented leather is made of lower grade hides and is the most popular leather used in furniture. Because it is treated with a surface paint, the natural markings of the leathers do not show and the look of the material is uniform. Bicast leather is the lowest grade of hide. A polyurethane coating is applied to the surface.


Aniline leather, being of the highest quality, has a soft feel and is easy to scratch. Semi-aniline are aniline leathers that have a protective coating, which increases durability. This protective coat still allows the natural markings and textures to show but results in something a little stiffer. Nubuck leathers have the surface brushed until there is a "nap," or velvet-like texture. These are aniline, as opposed to suede, which is similar but is made of lower grade hide. Pigmented leather is stiffer due to the surface paint. Sauvage is a multiple-toned leather, often two-toned, that has an old, used appearance. Sauvage leather can be made with either semi-aniline or pigmented leathers. Pull-ups are leathers have oil or wax applied to the surface. Oil finish is only used on pull-ups made from aniline, while wax can be used on either aniline or pigmented. When the leather is pulled, the oil or wax finish separates. This results in a lighter color and a worn look and texture. Embossed leather is subjected to heat or pressureto apply a print or pattern to the surface. For example, you may find floral patterns on furniture made with embossed leather.


Now that you've identified what kind of leather your furniture is made of, you can select what type of dye or paint is best. The semi-transparent dye is used for aniline, nubuck and suede leathers. This is because you'll want the natural markings and textures to show through the dye. Unfortunately, it is difficult to administer a color repair to aniline, nubuck and suede because such repairs are noticeable. Small repairs are easier to conceal, but larger repairs usually necessitate a full color restoration. For pigmented and protected leathers, such as regular, monochrome pigmented leather or sauvage, a leather paint is used. For sauvage, apply the lighter tone first, then the darker one. Technically, semi-aniline falls into the pigmented and protected category since a protective coating is applied to this type of leather.


As with the type of dye or paint you use, different leathers will also benefit from different finishes. Solid colors are common and easiest to repair. Applying a second color will give you a two-toned finish, used for sauvage leathers. Use a semi-transparent finish for aniline, nubuck and suede. Use leather paints for pigmented and protected leathers. On pigmented leathers, you can also use metallic or pearlized finishes. These finishes contain metal flakes that reflect light, which will give the leather a kind of luster. Note that leathers treated with oil and wax cannot be recolored as these finishes do not allow for the leather to absorb or bond with the dye.


For solid color, semi-transparent and sauvage needs, sponging or hand-wiping with a sponge or cloth is best. Aniline, nubuck and suede are leathers that will benefit from this application. Brushing can also be used for small repairs and blending colors. Blending with a brush will help you to create designs or to blend a repaired spot with its surrounding area. Spraying is best for leather paints and metallic or pearlized finishes. In addition, applying several light coats will allow you to hide repairs.

Phillip Ginn

Phillip Ginn is a writer, artist and musician. He has written about comics, music, food, the news, and other interesting things. He is also the writer, and sometimes artist, of several fiction pieces. Ginn plays several instruments and can be found working as a drum instructor and private teacher in the Sacramento, Calif. area.